Homecoming for Wrestling Superstars

One is called The Nigerian giant, the other, The Nigerian Prince. Meet Omos and Apollo Crews, two professional wrestling superstars of Nigerian descent that are waving the Nigeria flag high on the grandest stage of the WWE. Vanessa Obioha interviews them during their recent visit to Nigeria 

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is famous for its giants. Think of the late French WWE star Andre the Giant (7 feet. 4 inches), who has a tournament named after him; the Great Khali (7 feet.1 inch) who became the first Indian-born WWE World Heavyweight Champion in history; and the late Argentine wrestler Giant Gonzalez (7 feet.7 inches). Now add Omos, a Nigerian professional wrestler fondly called The Nigerian Giant in WWE who stands at an impressive 7 feet, 3 inches. Not a few chose to sit rather than stand to take a picture/selfie with him during a recent visit to Nigeria. Omos was in the company of fellow wrestler Apollo Crews and other WWE officials to announce the talent search for Africa’s Next WWE Superstar in collaboration with SuperSport.

Reputed for scouting new talents to fill its expansive roster, WWE has now set its eyes on the continent where its fans are more than hundreds of thousands. The talent search is coming on the heels of the latest expansion of WWE programming events on MultiChoice Nigeria platforms including Showmax which will now stream its live events

WWE Head of Talent Operations and Strategy, James Kimball, provided details of the tryout which seeks to find individuals with appealing personalities.

“Submissions are really meant to highlight your personality and charisma, not necessarily your physical,” he said, citing Omos and Crews who sat across the table.

“What really transcends their ability to resonate with fan bases across the globe is their ability to connect with audiences and tell a story and elicit emotion and provide engagement on a weekly basis. So that is what we are looking for, as we evaluate talent from across any African country, of any gender, who’s 20 or older.”

Open till December 18, selected participants will be in Lagos next February for a tryout and if lucky,  “be invited to attend WWE’s biggest events of the year, WrestleMania in Los Angeles, California, next year, in April,” said Kimball.

The golden ticket for top-performing participants is a full-time WWE developmental contract which will kick start their career at the world-class WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.

Omos towering presence was felt immediately as he walked into the conference room at Sheraton Hotels, Lagos. It became more intimidating when he spoke Pidgin and Yoruba languages in a deep rough voice.

Yet for the sports and wrestling enthusiasts who were in that gathering, seeing Omos and Crews in the flesh was a cherishable moment. While both are signed on different brands of WWE, they have become a national pride given that not many Nigerian wrestlers have enjoyed the spotlight and fame as they have. For instance, during the 2021 Wrestlemania, both superstars flew the Nigerian flag high with their respective wins.

Omos, who made his in-ring debut at the event as a tag team partner to AJ Styles, a high-ranking WWE star, won the tag team championship against The New Day. Crews on the other hand had just had a character change which saw him adopt a Nigerian accent and have his wrestling gear accessorised with the green and white colours of the Nigerian flag. He was involved in a Nigerian Drum fight with Big E for the Intercontinental Championship and with the help of another Nigerian wrestler, Commander Azeez won the match. His victory was well celebrated on Twitter by his fans in Nigeria.

Born Tolulope ‘Jordan’ Omogbehin, Omos grew up in Ketu, Alapere, and attended Maryland Private School. He has three brothers and is the only odd one in the mix.

“Nobody is as tall as I am in the family,” he revealed.

He left the shores of Nigeria to pursue a basketball dream over a decade ago. But when things didn’t go as planned, he became stuck in the United States. Although he has an MBA, he could not get a job. It was such a frustrating period for the WWE superstar. His brother, however, hinted at him trying out at the WWE Performance Centre.

“The worst that could happen to me at that time of my life was to get a no from them,” he said, recalling his transition from basketball to wrestling.

To be sure, it was not an easy transition for the giant. All he ever knew was basketball.

“When you play basketball, you become so engrossed in it. So everything was basketball. I knew everything about basketball. So I didn’t really have the time to watch WWE. I knew of it but I wasn’t deep into it.”

It was in the summer of 2018 that Omos visited the WWE Performance Centre for a tryout and voila, he was hired on the spot. He fell in love with the sport from that day on and hasn’t looked back. He was trained prominently by the iconic WWE superstar of the Attitude Era, Kevin Nash.

“I remember what he (Nash) used to tell me back then: ‘you are a giant, don’t forget that and protect your size.’”

Omos’ character has gone through different storylines. The first time he appeared on TV was as a member of WWE superstar Akira Tozawa’s ninja faction in 2020. He was known then as the Giant Ninja. Omos was later repackaged as a bodyguard for Shane McMahon’s Raw Underground.

When the show was shelved, Omos was drafted into a tag team partnership with AJ Styles until the storyline was exhausted and he began to feud with his partner before teaming up and starting a feud with one of WWE’s strongest superstars Bobby Lashley. For this new character, the former manager of Lashley, MVP (also a former WWE star) allied with Omos.

“That was a huge opportunity. I can’t thank Bobby enough. Me and Bobby working through Wrestlemania, and the growth through that experience and even beyond has been tremendous to my career…I call him the Black Captain America. He is the strongest contender I have ever been in the ring with and glad we created magic for three months. I learnt a lot from him,” he said.

His visit to Nigeria was on the heels of his impressive match with Braun Strowman at the WWE pay-per-view live event Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia.

Regarding his relationship with MVP, Omos revealed that it was a smooth one.

“He is very comfortable with who I am and helps with my confidence. Sometimes, he tells me he hears people call me Oba and what that means. I told him it means King and he said he will always call me that because I’m the King of this place (WWE),” he said dramatically.

That’s not the only nickname he has. Everybody calls him Big Jordan in the men’s locker room.

“MVP is helping me to be more charismatic,” he added.

As a child, Omos revealed he was a very quiet kid.

“I do come out of my shell when I need to but I very much keep to myself.”

That’s not all, Omos further disclosed that he wanted to be an artist as a child.

“I love to draw and paint.”

Although he has been away for 15 years, Omos still keeps in touch with his roots. He is familiar with Nigerian musicians and even sampled one of Burna Boy’s songs. He knows one or two BBNaija stars even though he does not keep up with the show regularly. Nigerian food is still his best.

“I’ve had jollof rice, Ofada rice, moin moin,” he gleefully reeled out the names of the food he had eaten since he arrived in Nigeria.

Unlike Omos whose career in WWE is just three years, Crews has been in the company since 2014 after he was offered a developmental contract. He made his televised NXT  in-ring debut on August 22, 2015, at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn where he defeated Tye Dillinger. He made his main roster debut on the April 4, 2016 episode of Raw. His first championship title was in 2020 when he defeated Andrade to claim the United States Championship.

Like Omos, Crews has not been to Nigeria since he was 10.

“I was 10 years old the last time I came here. My parents grew up here. They moved to the United States before I was born. I think around 1983. I think my Dad’s intention was to bring us back to Nigeria but it never happened that way as he pursued his PhD at UC Davis.”

Crews parents hail from Benue State. His original name is Sesugh Uhaa. Crews’ love for wrestling was inspired by his dad.

“My dad is the one who got me watching wrestling when I was about three years old. Up to this day, he still loves wrestling.”

His favourite wrestler at the time was Ultimate Warrior.

Although Crews has worked with many superstars in WWE, the superstar that resonates more with fans is Commander Azeez, particularly during their run on Smackdown.

“You know what’s funny is that we were creating things on a weekly basis. Right? So, it was like we never really had time to fully develop the character. It was just kind of like an idea presented and then it’s like we’re doing it, you know, so we didn’t really have time to kind of figure out, we’re just figuring out things as we went along. It’s like, can we do this? Can we do that? But I enjoyed working with Commander Azeez. He’s a great talent, a humongous dude. And he’s still young. So, he has a lot of career ahead of him.

“I think as we go on, and we kind of travel together a little bit, you naturally develop a bond with that person just because you’re with them all the time. At that time, we were only travelling once a week, but usually, we’ll see these guys more than our family. We’re on the road with them four days a week. Sometimes you go on tour for two weeks, so naturally just kind of develop a bond and that type of synergy with whatever individual.”

One of the questions Crews has never been asked is what his wrestling legacy would be. He pondered on it briefly before answering.

“I will say the Hall of Fame. I want to have a Hall of Fame career. I want to represent this country as well in a respectable way. I want people to want to follow in my footsteps, not just from Nigeria, from Africa, but just young kids in general. I want to set a great example for young kids. Let them chase their dreams. Anything is possible,” he concluded.

Though the superstars may not come home as often as they want, one thing is certain: they are proud to be Nigerians.

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